It’s being marketed, with a straight face, as the world’s most ethical vodka brand. This is akin to promoting the world’s most ethical oil spill.
It’s also being positioned as a way to support mental health in the hospitality industry, the suggestion being that the answer to issues of depression lie at the bottom of a bottle, and not just any bottle but a bottle of Cheers Mate vodka.
So this is a lot like free matches for arsonists. Or that time diabetics were encouraged to eat an entire cheesecake every Friday morning.
Ben Osborne, the founder of Cheers Mate is at best naïve. At worst, his ‘ethical’ vodka, is dangerous, and his actions ignorant, cynical and manipulative.
Because why would you sell a product that’s responsible for the very harm you’re supposedly so concerned about.
Of course Ben Osborne isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, entrepreneur or alcohol industry giant for that matter, to leverage a swig of corporate social responsibly in order to boost his bottom line.
And while his desire to give back to his community, and in particular the hospitality industry in which he works, might be admirable and even genuine, it is incredibly misguided.
You wouldn’t support the thousands of people injured and orphaned by exploding landmines by selling them landmines; no matter how lucrative.
And lest you think that analogy extreme, consider for a moment alcohol’s devastating toll. Alcohol is responsible for nearly 6,000 deaths per year in Australia. And the links between alcohol, depression and suicide are very real.
Speaking to Canberra news outlet RiotACT ahead of a planned launch party, Osborne speaks candidly about the friends he has lost to mental health issues, and how funds raised by flogging Vodka can support groups for alcohol-related issues.
Continues Osborne, tone-deaf and completely failing to make the link, “I wanted to create a product that was not just enjoyable but also made a positive difference to peoples’ lives”.
Osborne can take small comfort that he’s in good company. Aussie icon Olivia Newton-John recently found herself roundly criticised for flogging wine in the name of cancer research.
You can see why that’s problematic, with one in four Australian alcohol-related deaths being a result of cancer.
Unfortunately, it’s such a common practice that the term pinkwashing was coined to describe the incongruous marketing of an unhealthy product, claiming to care about breast cancer while at the same time manufacturing or selling a product that causes cancer.
In Australia, a study by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) found that hospitality industry workers – the very workers and colleagues Osborne is so concerned about – were 3.5 times more likely than other workers to drink alcohol and two to three times more likely to use drugs at work or attend work under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
With that knowledge, it’s difficult to argue that the manufacturer of the world’s most ‘ethical’ vodka, isn’t simply taking the piss.
This post was updated on 7 June 2019, to correctly identify the Cheers Mate founder as Ben Osborne.